Sunday, December 17, 2017

And Other Duties, As Assigned

This past week, I went to Union Elementary School for classroom visits.  As I always do, I checked in at the front office to let folks know I would be there.  To my surprise, two new faces were at the desk: Anne Fraser one of our Instructional Assistants and Diadel Ortiz who directs our after school program.  Normally, I would see Diana Koliander-Hart and Pam Foster who ensure that the trains run on time at UES.

I soon found out they were at a training and as Anne rose from the desk, she told me with a smile it was now "my turn" as she needed to get back to her regular duties.  I paused.  Classroom visits are one of my favorite parts about being Superintendent.  Interacting with students and teachers in their learning environments, building relationships, listening to what is happening on a day-to-day basis, shows Montpelier Public Schools that I mean what I say when I commit to every student feeling safe and included when they come to school.

And yet, there was a concrete need in front of me.  I could not say no - this is what UES needed to ensure that the school continued to run smoothly.  Now please know that I have never been officially seated in that chair.  Clearly, I can answer the phone, but I am well aware that front-office Administrative Assistant positions are critical to a well-run building.  And there is so much more to those positions than simply answering the phone.  Anyone who has spent any time in schools knows that is a fact.  This was the view from my chair that day:

As it turns out, there was very little for me to do while I was there.  The phone rang and was answered by Diadel.  A couple of folks inquired about whether or not there was outdoor recess.  The front door chimed once, and Diadel let that person in.  She showed me the steps to do it the next time it rang but it never did again while I was there.

Soon, Diana returned and shortly after that, Pam did as well.  I was on my way to my classroom visits.  But I was also struck by how uncomfortable and nervous I was being thrust into a position that I was not familiar with.  It made me grateful, incredibly grateful, for all the employees of MPS who do many, many jobs that I am not nearly proficient in.  We rely on each other to ensure that the mission is a reality for all students.  Without the capable and fabulous staff members in our district, along with countless volunteers, we would not be able to serve our students and their families in the consistent, thorough, and thoughtful way that we do. 

Instruction is at the core of education.  Yet it would be shortsighted to fail to recognize the critical role that staff play in the lives of our students and their families.  At the very heart, education is a human endeavor; and we do it together.  We are all part of the wonderful enterprise that we call Montpelier Public Schools.  When we make mistakes, the errors are shared and our joys are multiplied when we succeed.  It is, as it always has been and will continue to be, about relationships. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Are You Listening?

This year, all of Montpelier Public Schools are renewing our commitment toward equity.  The Leadership Team is working with CQ Strategies in their "We All Belong" series.  Rebecca Haslam from the Burlington School District and Seed the Way is working with our faculties to bring more awareness to the concrete ways we can make equity a reality for all students in our classrooms. 

For me, equity is ensuring that every one of our students has what s/he needs to feel safe and included, so that s/he can learn to their potential.  It is distinct from equality, in which every student gets the "same".  The image below from Cultural Organizing is one of my favorites that demonstrates the difference:

I've been visiting Faculty Meetings at each of the schools and recently I was struck by the candor and frankness of a conversation.  Part of creating a space for all students to feel safe and included, is ensuring there is room for adults to make mistakes, learn and grow.  As part of this conversation, one of the teachers challenged the entire room to be sure that we are listening, both to each other as adults and more importantly, to our students. 

Our students are speaking to us and they are speaking clearly.  Some have told us they don't feel particularly welcome in school because of the color of their skin.  Some have told us they don't feel particularly safe in school because of the gender they identify as.  Some have told us they don't feel particularly included because of whom they love. 

Our students are speaking to us and we are working by bringing equity to the forefront of our faculty meetings.  What are the next steps we need to take to ensure that all of Montpelier Public Schools' students feel safe and included when they come to school? 

We do not have all the answers yet.  But we are listening. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Even Adults Make Mistakes

This past Thursday, we celebrated a mistake.  Yes, you read that correctly.  This past Thursday we celebrated a mistake.  The Montpellier Herault Sports club is a French association football club based in France.  It was discovered in September that their game jerseys contained a misspelling; the jerseys were missing one "l".  The story received international attention three months ago, and just this weekend, even NPR covered it. 

Instead of sending the misspelled jerseys back to the manufacturer, the French city officials reached out to our one "l" Montpelier city officials and arranged for the jerseys to be sent to us.  We held a Skype ceremony to connect with our closely named counterparts in Europe.  It was a wonderful opportunity to meet - albeit electronically - people whose path we normally would not have crossed. 

We had students from each of our schools represented, Union Elementary School, Main Street Middle School, and Montpelier High School.  What a unique moment for them to be a part of.  One that started from a mistake. 

We spend a good deal of time correcting mistakes as educators, and really as human beings.  It seems that it's more of a one-way street, with adults doing a fair amount of the correcting for our students.  As adults, it's critical that we are open to having our students point out the places we have misstepped; since it is all in the name of lifelong learning, there is no shame in making mistakes. 

This week the City of Montpellier, France modeled that the most important step after to take once a mistake is made is how to correct it.  In this case, relationships were bridged across two continents.  What a beautiful life lesson for our students to witness.